Paul Harding

First Sentence: George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died.

I think that’s a great first sentence. It just tells you so much and yet leaves you wanting to find out even more after only a few words. Overall I think this book started off quite well but I kind of lost interest as I went along. It deals with the final days/hours of Crosby as he lies on his deathbed remembering scenes from his past; particularly the memories of his long-dead, epileptic father. There’s no denying the quality of the writing on display here, after all it did win a Pulitzer but overall I couldn’t shake the sense that it was a missed opportunity. The scene where Howard, Crosby’s tinker-father extracts a tooth from  one of his customers, a hermit, is particularly memorable:

[…]and Howard, squinting to get a good look, saw in that dank, ruined purple cavern, stuck way in the back of an otherwise-empty levy of gums , a single black tooth planted in a swollen and bright red throne of flesh

As is the description of how he feels post-seizure:

his head feeling like a glass jar full of old keys and rusty screws

but in the end it was the lack of empathy I felt for the characters which ruined it for me. Definitely not a bad book, just not a great one.

* * *

Last Sentence: Good-bye.

Last Sentence explained: The goodbye is Crosby’s final memory before he dies and is spoken by Howard, his father, the last time they meet. They have been estranged for twenty years when one Christmas Howard just turns up on Crosby’s doorstep. It is not much of a reunion however, and Howard soon leaves saying his final goodbye. Not a great ending in my opinion but there is some good stuff in here, especially near the beginning of the book when Crosby’s near-death hallucinations of the sky falling in are described:

The roof collapsed, sending down a fresh avalanche of wood and nails, tarpaper and shingles and insulation. There was the sky, filled with flat-topped clouds, cruising like a fleet of anvils across the blue. George had the watery, raw feeling of being outdoors when you are sick. The clouds halted, paused for an instant, and plummeted onto his head. The very blue of the sky followed, draining from the heights into that cluttered concrete socket. Next fell the stars, tinkling about him like the ornaments of heaven shaken loose. Finally, the black vestation itself came untacked and draped over the entire heap, covering George’s confused obliteration.

Like most things in this book I feel it started off brilliantly but just didn’t quite deliver on its initial promise. Great first sentence, terrible last sentence.


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